As a parent you give up nappies like you give up cigarettes – you wait till the end of the packet. So when we reached the end of my son’s nappies there was a sense of sad theatre in throwing the green plastic away – another little chapter gone forever.
But I’d failed to consider the chapters that follow – the “pull-ups and potty” period and the less familiar “portable potty” period.
At home, it’s all very straightforward, but when you are out and about it becomes more interesting. For a start, it meant carrying a potty around with me whenever we left the house, one that could be deployed at a moments notice, always ready for action: much like the SAS. As you can imagine, it was a socially awkward period: my son would suddenly shout “Poo Poo coming!” and wherever we were, within 20 seconds, he would be naked from the waist down and sitting on a potty that appeared as if by magic. Wherever we were. Like a Formula 1 pitstop. The whole process was slick, we each knew our role and you get so used to doing it that you rarely stop to think whether the location might be anything less than appropriate. Y’know, for an impromptu dump. Occasionally it took bystanders by surprise. One moment we are a normal looking family and the next one of us has shouted “poo”,we’ve pulled a mobile toilet out of thin air, stripped a child to the waist and are ready with moist and dry wipes for the clean up operation. It’s the sort of behaviour that has, in the past, put other diners right off their tapas. We are “no longer welcome” at La Tosca. But we don’t care – who dares wins.
The potty itself resembled an upturned plastic cowboy hat, and once full, I would carefully wander the streets with it held at arms length, looking for somewhere safe to empty it. That was my least favourite part, trying not to spill anything in a shopping centre or supermarket whilst affecting an air of nonchalance, “Sure I’ve got a white plastic Stetson full of autumnal colours – what of it?”. I even stopped wearing checked shirts for a while, suspicious, that to the general public, I looked like some kind of awful country and western busker.
Anyway, we turned the page on another chapter of childhood (although no doubt my daughter will enjoy the freedom of flash dumping in the near future) and he now insists on using “big boy” toilets. Which, for me, is much worse…………
We’d found a passable public toilet which lacked glamour but more importantly – occupants. There were just 2 cubicles. We picked the one on the left. Now you and I know that there is an etiquette, that once in a cubicle, you remain, vocally at least, silent. Let me tell you right now that it’s a social convention that 3 year olds do not respect. Perhaps it’s because usually there are 2 of us in the cubicle? I honestly don’t know. Whatever the reason, my son has failed to adopt my long held belief that there is no need for commentary of any kind, that under the circumstances narration is, at best, distasteful. I am not taking confession. Anyway, I was waiting patiently to hear the words “I’ve finished” in amongst the usual toilet waffle and reading a particularly surreal piece of graffito when I heard the door outside slam open and somebody rush in to the cubicle next to ours. Without being able to see who had just burst in I knew we were in for an unpleasant experience: being out of breath through exercise and being out of breath through “panic” sound very different. What I could hear next door was beyond “need”, it was hyperventilation through sudden glorious proximity to a toilet, that most dangerous time when the body thinks it has reached the finishing line but has failed to take into account those precious few seconds required to undo belts and jeans and get any underwear well out of the way. I could hear as they struggled with their belt, the desperate snarl of frustration that such a simple garment could betray them like this. “GAH!!”
I moved my son’s legs and my own away from the shared wall. Unconsciously I took a deep breath. Our new arrival was actually whispering to himself. His mouth and brain were begging the body for a few more seconds. And then. And then we heard the metal of the belt hit the tiled floor, followed by a whimper of gratitude to God, followed by pure evil. Liquid wrongness, and then a relentless stuttering mixture of liquid and gas: like somebody refused to believe they’d come to the end of a squeezy Ketchup bottle.
“Aw dad somebody’s doing a really long blow off aren’t they dad”
“Yes. Yes they are Alex”
“I don’t do that dad”
“No. No you don’t Alex”
“You sound funny dad – is because you are holding your nose?”
Satan’s expulsions had suddenly stopped next door. I could hear the sort of silence you get when a person’s entire being is clenching, having realised they are not alone.
“Have you finished Alex?”
“No dad – it’s gone back up”
“Oh okay – shall we go then?”